EPA Needs to Act on States' Inability to Reach Nutrient Goals

 

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Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Since 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has applauded the transparency, accountability and consequences built into the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. But like any three-legged stool, take one leg away and it falls.

It is the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's job to establish the policies and financing for the restoration and protection of the Bay and its living resources and to be accountable to the public for progress, or lack thereof. The EPA's recent interim milestone assessment suggests that the Bay cleanup is dramatically off course: Since 2009, Bay states have achieved only 29 percent of the nearly 41 million pounds of nitrogen reductions needed by 2017.

When the council meets on July 23, its actions will determine if the stool continues to stand, or whether we are in danger of repeating the decades of failed restoration efforts from the first three Bay agreements. The disappointing progress to date suggests that the stool might soon fall. The council must soon take corrective action, or the legacy of an improving Bay will be lost once again.

Although both Virginia and Maryland are making progress, the EPA's recent assessment suggests that both states face shortfalls.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban/suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, CBF calls on the McAuliffe administration to ensure that farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to restore streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia must also increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is one of the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

Maryland data show phosphorus pollution increasing in the Choptank watershed, and the EPA recommends that Maryland consider additional reductions.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, the state missed its 2014 milestone for both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the United States Department of Agriculture agricultural census, and population and land use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Pennsylvania is the greatest source of nitrogen pollution and missed the mark on its 2012–13 milestones and again in its 2014 nitrogen milestone goal. Not surprisingly, the largest shortfalls are in reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff.

The shortfall in Pennsylvania is huge. When we look at how Bay states are coming up short, Pennsylvania is responsible for more than 75 percent of that deficit. And more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania's share of the shortfall comes from agriculture.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration inherited the commonwealth's water quality problems, they are nonetheless responsible for implementing solutions. Pennsylvania needs to aggressively advance efforts to ensure farmers are complying with existing laws. At the current rate of inspections, it will take more than 150 years for each farm in the Bay watershed to be inspected once.

Given that Pennsylvania has repeatedly missed its nitrogen goals, CBF is also calling on the federal government to take action. In 2009, the EPA outlined the consequences that it could impose if jurisdictions do not implement the plans. It is time for the EPA to impose the backstops to ensure pollution is reduced.

The USDA also has a key role to play. President Obama's Executive Order committed the USDA to target funding to key watersheds to assist states in meeting two-year milestones. The USDA must, therefore, target technical and financial resources to help Pennsylvania achieve its goals.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania will all be in office when the 2017 deadline is reached. Their legacy will be determined by the actions they take over the next two years. Their actions need to be solely focused on implementing the Blueprint. The Executive Council can never state that it didn't have adequate forewarning about the challenges we face.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell your Governor and EPA in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23 that clean water restoration must move forward!

 


This Week in the Watershed

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Professor Tami Imbierowicz of Harford Community College oversees her daughter Stephanie as she takes a water sample at Kilgore Falls in Harford County. Their findings are part of a study revealing alarming levels of bacteria in popular Maryland swimming spots. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

It might be a bit cliché, but the truth still stands that you can't solve a problem until you recognize its existence. While polluted runoff is a problem we have been fighting for years, this week we found evidence that it is wreaking havoc on freshwater streams and lakes in Maryland. We also released milestone reports revealing that while progress has been made towards saving our Bay and its rivers and streams, there is still much work to be done.

Our response is continuing the work to save the Bay, through restoring the native oyster population, bringing teachers into the field so they can inspire the next generation of clean water advocates, and taking the fight for the Bay to the courtroom. Also this week we are working to raise the voices of the 17 million citizens who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23. TAKE ACTION: Tell your Governor and the EPA that clean water restoration must move forward!

This week in the Watershed: Dirty Streams, Restoring Oysters, and Teaching Teachers

  • CBF has partnered with Hood College, Howard Community College, and Harford Community College, in a study exposing alarming levels of bacteria in Maryland streams, particularly after heavy rain. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Read more about this stream study in our Press Release.
  • In efforts to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025, the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have committed to two-year incremental goals called Milestones. CBF and Choose Clean Water Coalition evaluated clean water progress for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. (CBF Press Releases)
  • CBF President Will Baker and CBF PA Executive Director Harry Campbell discuss all things Pennsylvania water quality on WITF's "Smart Talk." (WITF—PA)
  • There are few activities more helpful in saving the Bay than oyster restoration. CBF is in the thick of building sanctuary reefs. (Bay Journal)
  • Speaking of oyster restoration, this group in Carroll County, Maryland is doing great work, collecting and recycling old oyster shells. (Bay Journal)
  • Recently we took legal action to challenge Virginia's rules for large livestock farms, arguing the state is failing to protect streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay by allowing farm animals unfettered access to streams. This week that lawsuit was unfortunately dismissed. Stay tuned for updates on this important issue. (Richmond Times-Dispatch—VA)
  • Fourteen teachers from Pennsylvania and Virginia went paddling, turned over rocks, and studied forestry and soils during a two-day workshop this week, co-sponsored by CBF. (CBF Press Release)
  • The writers of this editorial deserve high-fives and fist-bumps all around for clearly and convincingly arguing the need for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint in saving the Bay. (Frederick News-Post—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

July 23

  • Join CBF for an evening of exploring the beautiful lower Susquehanna River. Explore a unique stretch of the Susquehanna, paddling by plants and animals that call these ecosystems home while discussing how land use and pollution have affected the overall habitat of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Click here to register!

July 25

  • Folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are invited to learn about native plant landscaping at an exciting, educational event: "Trees, Bees, and Clean Water: Connecting the Dots." Experts will help attendees learn about the pollinating power of birds, butterflies, and bees, how to landscape to reduce polluted runoff, how to build a rain garden, and more. Space is limited and registration is required. E-mail Tatum Ford at tford@cbf.org to reserve your spot!

July 28

  • In preparation for stormwater medallion placement on July 30, CBF will be distributing door hangers with information about how citizens can reduce their impact on the waterways! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804/780-1392 to participate.

July 30

  • Join CBF as we place stormwater medallions in Oak Grove, Richmond. This unique volunteer opportunity allows you to have a positive impact on the Bay while also using a caulk gun! E-mail Blair Blanchette at bblanchette@cbf.org or call 804/780-1392 to participate.

August 1

  • This annual benefit for CBF draws kayakers, paddle boarders and all kinds of other paddlers—from novice to advanced—from far and wide for a race at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. CBF is looking for 5-6 volunteers to assist in event/race logistics and share information with the attendees. To volunteer please e-mail or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757/622-1964. To join the races, click here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Trees: The Cool Solution to Water Pollution

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

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Trees are critical to improving water quality throughout Pennsylvania's rivers and streams. Photo by Justin Black/iLCP.

These arid days of summer aren't so dogged, spent under the cool canopy of an old oak tree, a cold drink in hand and a refreshing breeze on your face.

While looking for relief and grabbing some shade, we might pause to appreciate the health, economic, and esthetic values that trees add to our lives.

Planting trees as stream-side buffers is one of the most affordable ways to reduce the harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment polluting Pennsylvania waters. The commonwealth is lagging well behind in its goals to reduce pollution of its streams and rivers and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

To get back on track, the state must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year. Trees and their roots can filter as much as 60 percent of nitrogen, 40 percent of phosphorus, and nearly half of sediment in runoff. A single mature oak tree can absorb more than 40,000 gallons of water per year.

Trees are the answer to multiple pollution reduction challenges in the commonwealth. To meet its commitments by 2017, Pennsylvania also must add 22,000 acres of forest and grass buffers to Penn's Woods. Another very tall task.

Stream-side buffers also help reduce erosion and provide shade, critical food and shelter for wildlife. Trees stabilize stream banks and lower water temperatures, which are vital to a thriving aquatic ecosystem.

Enhanced by the presence of trees, microbes and insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies in cool, wooded streams consume runoff nutrients and organic matter. Some native mayflies, for example, thrive at 68 degrees but perish at 70.

Native brook trout flourish in cool, clean water and are returning to streams where buffers have been installed.

Trees also are valuable around the home. When included in urban and suburban landscaping, trees absorb pollution and provide shade. A single large tree in the front yard can intercept 760 gallons of water in its crown, reducing stormwater runoff. The beauty of trees is evident in every neighborhood.

Trees provide benefits wherever they stand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one acre of forest can absorb six tons of carbon dioxide and put out four tons of oxygen, enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.

Trees have economic benefits. The U.S. Forest Service reports that healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property's value, and when placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent.

Native plants are preferred and more than 130 native tree species grow across Pennsylvania. Popular types include the oaks, hickories, maples, dogwood, red bud, sycamore, and honey-locust.

Late summer and early fall are optimum months to plant trees in order to take advantage of cooler soil temperatures and the ability of trees to establish strong root systems.

In the meantime, enjoy the shade. Summer is the ideal time to consider new plantings and how and where more trees will make our lives better.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Take action now to ensure clean water restoration, like critical tree plantings in Pennsylvania, continues across the region. Take action for the Bay, rivers, and streams we all love!

 


Pennsylvania Leaders Must Step up to Meet Clean Water Commitments

The following first appeared in the York Dispatch.

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Agriculture and polluted runoff from sprawl development are two of the leading causes of water pollution in Pennsylvania. Photo by Garth Lenz.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) latest assessment of Pennsylvania's efforts to reduce pollution and restore its waterways that flow to the Chesapeake Bay, finds that the Commonwealth has fallen dangerously short of meeting its clean water commitment.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes now is the time to galvanize leadership from all sectors of government, including federal partners like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and others, to truly invest in correcting the current course and reducing pollution.

As part of the Clean Water Blueprint, Bay states developed two-year incremental pollution reduction targets, called milestones, with the goal of implementing 60 percent of the programs and practices necessary to restore local water quality by 2017 and finish the job by 2025.

EPA's review of Pennsylvania's reported progress in its 2014-15 milestones found that while on track for phosphorus reduction, there are significant shortfalls in meeting nitrogen and sediment pollution goals.

The EPA found the most significant shortfall to be in reducing nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture. To get back on track, the Commonwealth must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.

The report also shows that reducing pollution fromurban/stormwater runoff is off track. Using 2009 as a baseline, Pennsylvania committed to reducing nitrogen pollution from urban/suburban runoff by 41 percent by 2025. As of 2014, practices were put in place to reduce nitrogen pollution by only one percent.

The wastewater treatment sector has exceeded its obligations.

Agriculture is the leading cause of stream impairment, damaging more than 5,000 miles as a result of polluted runoff and eroded streambanks. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), 166 miles of York County's streams are impaired by agricultural activities.

Agriculture is also one of the least expensive sources of pollution to reduce. Farmers benefit from measures that improve water quality. For example, valuable soils and nutrients are kept on the fields with conservation tillage and cover crops.

In York County, 134 stream miles are impaired due to polluted runoff from urban and suburban development, according to DEP. Recent efforts to develop a regional plan to address the issue, led by the York County Planning Department, promise cost-effective solutions which can reduce flooding and beautify communities.

After decades of missing deadlines, Pennsylvania faces federal consequences for falling behind its clean water commitments. If efforts to reduce pollution in the Commonwealth are not meaningfully advanced, there could be significant impacts to taxpayers from increased sewage treatment costs and other actions.

Clean water counts. The health and economic benefits of achieving our clean water goals are huge. A peer-reviewed report produced by CBF showed a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth meets its commitments.

There's still time for Pennsylvania to get back on track, if the accelerated effort begins now. Restoring water quality is a legacy worth leaving our children and future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


This Summer, the Crab Bake You Save May Be Your Own

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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Grassy habitats are critical for blue crab survival. Photo by Jay Fleming/iLCP.

Crab cakes. Crab soup. Crab Imperial.

Encrusted with a favorite seasoning or lightly broiled as cakes, by the pound or by the bushel, we love our crab meat.

Blue crabs are one of the tastiest and more resilient species that come from the Chesapeake Bay and their fate is the hands of Pennsylvanians.

The good news is total numbers of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are up slightly this year, after the 2012-2013 survey indicated a drastic loss down to 300 million.

The 2015 Chesapeake Bay winter crab dredge survey shows populations of juvenile and adult blue crabs have gone up to 411 million. Most notable is how adult females have clawed their way from 68 million to 100 million.

Blue crab populations fluctuate because of a witch's brew of factors like severe winters, the harvest, and pollution.

Chesapeake Bay watermen supply as much as one-third of the nation's blue crabs each year. About 75 percent of the Bay's adult blue crab stock is harvested. As for Mother Nature, there is little any of us can do to control the weather.

But pollution control is within our grasp. Driven by our commitment at CBF to improve water quality in Pennsylvania as well as the Bay, we cannot think of delicious crab meat without also thinking of crabgrass.

A dense lawn is one of the more effective barriers against what many Americans consider intrusive and offensive crabgrass.

Applying lawn fertilizer can help get the job done. But the runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment is the leading cause of impairment of 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways.

Agriculture is the largest source of that pollution. Urban and suburban runoff are also key sources.

Pennsylvania delivers half of the freshwater that flows into the Bay. It's easy to see how what we do in Pennsylvania, through agriculture and what we put onto our lawns, affects the health of the Bay and its blue crabs.

The presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Bay encourages the explosive growth of algae. Algal blooms darken the water and block light, killing underwater grasses that re-oxygenate the water and provide critical shelter for crabs.

"Dead zones" are formed when blooms fed by polluted runoff quickly die and decay, sucking up oxygen. In order to find oxygen, crabs move to shallow waters where they are caught more easily.

These "Dead zones" also destroy or inhibit the growth of clams and worms, an important food source for crabs.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is a plan that sets pollution limits for Pennsylvania and the Bay.

Pennsylvania has developed an individual plan to achieve those pollution reduction goals and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success.

Achieving pollution reduction goals and improving water quality in Pennsylvania, with a sensitivity toward how we handle pollution, can ensure an ecosystem in the Bay that supports a healthy blue crab population.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


When They're Debating the Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can't Forget Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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A boy takes a dip in a creek near Lightstreet, PA. Photo by Michelle Yost.

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, wanted to know how the Wolf administration plans to meet Pennsylvania's obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 11, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to "reboot" efforts on behalf of the Bay.

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth's water quality commitments.

Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Wolf and legislators to honor the Commonwealth's commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.

The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.

By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place.

Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania's efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas—agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.

But Pennsylvania's deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania's farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that. But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.

In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth's rivers, streams, and the Bay. But on average, it's also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.

Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.

A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction.

But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.

Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania's clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.

It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.

In his inquiry, Everett asked why Wolf's proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses.

At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked the same question.

While Pennsylvania's leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.

This is simply unacceptable. We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania's farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.  

Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.

Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint. 

Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts.

There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the clean-up goals. Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.

CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to clean water.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!


Restoration Success on Pennsylvania's Centre County Stream

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Property owner Charles "Chip" Brown, left, and Ed Meiser, install a protective plastic tube around a freshly planted sycamore tree along Elk Creek. Photo by B.J. Small/CBF Staff.

Charles "Chip" Brown cupped his hands around the top lip of the four-foot plastic tube, peered down into it and shook his head, frustrated by the gnawed edges of a stunted silky dogwood. White-tailed deer prefer the dogwoods over the sycamores he planted.

Brown and his wife, Diane, have owned the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club, 30 miles east of State College, for a decade. Creating a mature streamside buffer has been a priority for the 3.1 acres that parallel Elk Creek, because planting 450 trees benefits anglers, wildlife, and the water quality of the winding, Class A stream.

"Our long-range goal with the buffer, is get some terrestrial habitat for trout," Brown said. "It provides cover for all types of wildlife and enhances the stream by stopping the erosion. So everything we're trying to do is keep the siltation from moving away from here and stabilizing our bank."

Frank Rohrer, restoration specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that the buffers offer multiple benefits. "It's about water quality and the wildlife habitat created," Rohrer said. "It provides nesting and food, like acorns. For water quality, the buffer provides shade. Anything we can do to get shade helps lower the water temperature and raise fish survival. If you had a crop field it also catches and filters the runoff and pollution."

Leading up to the week that includes Earth Day and Arbor Day, Brown and his crew replenished the buffer with 150 new seedlings. The trees were part of 10,000 donated Arbor Day trees restoration specialists like Rohrer delivered to CBF projects within the Susquehanna River watershed.

Forested streamside buffers like the one hoping to mature on the Centre County property, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the Commonwealth's most problematic pollutants, before they run off into waters like the 20 miles of Elk Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Brown's passion for maintaining the 108 acres of club ground, and dedication particularly to success of the buffer, rings clear by the excitement in his voice, the wealth of knowledge he shares about land and water issues, and the time he spends at it.

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Charles "Chip" Brown and members of the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club in Centre County are maintaining a 450-tree streamside buffer along Elk Creek. Photo by Kelly Abbe/CBF Staff.

Brown was the first to receive a national volunteer award from the National Wildlife Federation. Fox Gap shares its facilities with wounded warriors for a hunt in the fall of each year.

Brown receives funding for his buffer project from Pennsylvania's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year. CBF and CREP partners in the Commonwealth have leveraged $95 million in state and federal funds and assisted more than 5,000 rural landowners to install over 20,000 acres, roughly 2,200 miles of forested buffers.

So far, the buffer has been able to maintain the three-year, 70 percent survival rate of its trees, as required by CREP. "We're probably at 75 percent, except they are not getting to where they need to be," Chip Brown added, looking again at the tree tube. "Survival and growth are two different things."

If only the deer would cooperate.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator


Council Opts for Reason on Stormwater

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

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Stormwater is an issue that can't be ignored. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Is it possible? Has the long stormy winter of "rain tax" propaganda finally passed? Is the spring of reasonable thinking here?

I hope that is the take-away from the April 6 vote by the Anne Arundel County Council to affirm the importance of the county's stormwater fee program. The council rejected two bills that would have repealed the county stormwater fee and the program it enables.

The program, three years in the making, is overhauling the county's vast but long-neglected drainage system. Prior to this program, public dollars traditionally focused on maintaining the sewer or water systems. But when your basement or street floods, or your local creek is too polluted for safe swimming, that's often at least partly due to the poor condition of the county's stormwater system. Runoff from storms doesn't properly drain or filter into the ground. It washes pollutants straight into creeks and rivers.

That all changed in 2013 when the county started collecting a fee dedicated exclusively to improving the stormwater system. Numerous projects are now underway throughout the county as a result of this revenue stream. Had the council voted differently, all those projects would have been canceled.

County Councilmen John Grasso, Andrew Pruski, Pete Smith, and Chris Trumbauer showed real leadership. In voting to continue the county's stormwater upgrade program, these four dismissed the rain tax rhetoric for was it was: electioneering. It swept into Maryland like a nor'easter in 2013, uprooting facts and flooding newspapers with misinformation.

A March 13 statewide poll by OpinionWorks found that the rain tax disinformation campaign in Maryland was clever and effective. The poll found one out of every two Marylanders still believes he or she will be taxed when it rains. Not true, of course. A stormwater fee is similar to any other public utility fee — like paying for garbage collection or sewer service. A stormwater fee charges a mall more than a mom-and-pop grocery because the mall parking lot produces more polluted runoff. But talk of a rain tax was brilliant propaganda.

That's why the April 6 vote was a breath of fresh air. The four councilmen who defeated the repeal didn't just stick their fingers up to gauge the prevailing political winds. Reasonable thinking won out. And there's evidence in other parts of Maryland of the same change in the political climate. The storm is passing.

On March 23, for instance, the Salisbury City Council voted unanimously to start collecting a stormwater fee. The vote was grounded in facts. The city hired the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to explore ways Salisbury could finance an upgrade of its 105-year-old, badly neglected stormwater system. The EFC concluded a dedicated fee was the smart way to go. Salisbury joins nearly 1,500 communities nationwide that have opted for a stormwater fee to attack polluted runoff.

Also, representatives from Prince George's County spoke out forcefully in legislative hearings this spring to defend their own stormwater program from meddling. That county has estimated that by collecting a stormwater fee it actually could cut costs of upgrading its drainage system by 40 percent. Such fees typically are the preferred means of financing major capital expenses.

We just hope the leadership shown by Anne Arundel, other jurisdictions in Maryland, and across the country will inspire elected officials in places such as Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Frederick counties to finally face facts. Polluted runoff is the main cause of fouled, unhealthy water in many urban and suburban areas of the state. The Maryland Department of the Environment still warns us not to swim in local creeks and rivers for 48 hours after a rainstorm.

A campaign of distortions doesn't actually change the condition of our streams any more than a house of mirrors makes us skinnier. We can only do that by dedicating real dollars to put real projects in the ground.

Let's stop talking and get to work.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director


Barrels by the Bay

 

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Clinton Global Initiative Scholar and United States Naval Academy Midshipman Megan Rosenberger presentd her Barrels by the Bay Project to a packed house at CBF.

Clinton Global Initiative Scholar and United States Naval Academy Midshipman Megan Rosenberger shares what inspired her to create her Barrels by the Bay Project.

In 2004, my family and I were sitting at the dinner table discussing the never-ending rain from Hurricane Ivan. I took 10 steps "just to check" the basement with my dad and the water began soaking into my shoes a little more with each step. In a matter of hours, my community was flooded because of the immense amount of rain filling the streets.

Years later, I first learned about rain barrels while painting one at a local environmental fair. I remember my excitement when I cut the downspout and installed my own rain barrel at my home in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania. I even made it my first science project and spent hours in the backyard after school. In 2011, I was honored by President Obama to accept the President's Environmental Youth Award at the White House Summit on environmental education for the hydroelectric rain barrel science project that I built in my backyard.

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Young Megan with her first rain barrel!

When I started at the Naval Academy I experienced similar weather to my hometownthe fall and spring were full of rainy days. But, what I wasn't prepared for was flooded sidewalks and streets, sitting water that that had a film of contaminants suspended on top, and people unaware of how a rain barrel could change all of this. This past October, I was trudging through sidewalks in Annapolis and started thinking that maybe there was something I could do.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It has more miles of shoreline than the entire west coast, encompassing six states and D.C. But what you can't see on a map is that this watershed, which is home to 17 million people, has many streams and rivers on EPA's dirty waters list.

I truly believe Barrels by the Bay can change this. On March 23, I launched Barrels by the Bay at CBF's Philip Merrill Environmental Center. I established the non-profit to bring awareness to World Water Day and water resources. Together with students from 13 different schools, we are painting 22 converted Coca-Cola syrup barrels to reflect one of the past 22 World Water Day themes. We will then donate these rain barrels to public buildings around Annapolis to help collect rain water and prevent polluted runoff from running into our local rivers and streams.

Nearly a thousand students are involved in the painting of these barrels, and they are also learning about preserving water resources in the process through weekly curriculum prepared by the EPA. After the barrels are installed, 34,000 residents and 4.5 million visitors to Annapolis each year will see these barrels before walking into county buildings, senior centers, or even the Naval Academy gates.

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Students paint rain barrels at the Barrels by the Bay kick-off.

Barrels by the Bay will increase community awareness and improve the sustainability of Annapolis buildings. To combat the flooding and polluted runoff concerns, 631,400 gallons of potentially contaminated water will be collected with the 22 rain barrels.

In the coming months, I plan to expand this effort throughout Maryland to educate more students and individuals about the environment and the importance of restoring the Chesapeake. Two years from now, I hope for Annapolis streets free from contaminated runoff because there will be less water flowing off the streets.

There is so much we can do to educate individuals about the environment and to work together to solving polluted runoff problems. I am proud to share that Barrels by the Bay is doing just that. 

Megan Rosenberger


Talbot County Should Fund Ditch Project

The following first appeared in the Star Democrat.

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An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

The Talbot County Council has been presented a golden opportunity. Other local governments would be green with envy at such a gift.

Talbot has been offered the chance to significantly reduce pollution to local creeks and rivers at a cut-rate price. In the expensive world of Chesapeake Bay restoration, it's like winning the lottery.

We urge the county council to take advantage of this opportunity.

The gift-horse in this case is a proposal to convert roadside ditches in the county into pollution filters. Talbot has about 370 miles of county roads that are lined by such trenches. They channel rain water from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks and rivers. The trouble is that runoff in these ditches also contains lots of pollution—oil, exhaust particles, fertilizer, and manure.

The county engineer has proposed a solution—one already proven in other areas of the country. Ditches could be modified slightly to soak up pollution before it reaches the creeks. This is low-tech, common sense, high-efficiency innovation. It's the kind of ingenuity for which Americans were once famous, farmers especially.

Maybe that's why Talbot farmers such as John Swaine, chairman of the board of supervisors at the Talbot Soil Conservation District, are in support of the proposal.

The ditch work would be focused on stretches of ditches where pollution is worst, making the strategy all the more cost effective.

There are several techniques available to turn the ditches into filters. One popular one used widely in agricultural ditches in the Midwest is to enlarge the ditch just enough so runoff has more space and time to soak into the ground. The county, along with The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working on pilot projects to ensure this "two-stage ditch" technology and other similar approaches would work here.

The price to convert 150 of the most polluted ditches would be about $3 million—paid for in small increments over 30 years.

That's a bargain compared to many other strategies to clean up local water. For example, the price tag for upgrading the Easton sewage plant in 2007 was about $40 million. And polluted runoff is a particularly expensive type of pollution to reduce using traditional methods. But under the ditch program, county staff estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved over conventional techniques, reducing costs an estimated 90 percent.

The ditch program also could create jobs—for engineers, heavy equipment operators, and laborers.

Given all this you'd think the Talbot County Council would be embracing the proposal whole-heartedly. It's the kind of smart investment any smart businessman would recognize. But the council has not revealed its position.

The council's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released on April 14. Whether or not that budget will illustrate a firm commitment to cleaning up Talbot's polluted rivers is uncertain. We can only hope the council isn't penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Talbot council rejects the ditch program, the hundreds of miles of trenches will remain a problem. They will continue to sluice pollution straight into our local waters where we swim, where crabs and oysters try to survive.

We hope the council sees the wisdom of spending smart now in order to save money long term.

With rivers such as the Choptank getting more polluted, it's time for action in Talbot County. The ditch program not only is cost effective, it's inspiring. It will provide an example to other communities around Eastern Shore and throughout the region. On the Shore we have plenty of ditches, but too often a shortage of political will to act for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!